As promised in my last post, here are the remaining F-Words:
Children are born looking for fun. Even before they have toys, they know how to play: we have pictures of babies in the womb, swooping, diving, happily sucking their thumbs. Hand regard (the discovery of their hands as part of their own bodies) is both an important stage in child development and a reminder of how resourceful very small children can be. At the minuscule age of two months, they already realize how fascinating they themselves are. They stare at their hands in wonder, amazed at something the rest of us take for granted.
And the way they insist on having fun no matter what they are up to is probably the most important thing we can learn from them. Have you ever seen a child just “take a bath”? I mean the way we do? Mechanically, because it needs to be done? Open tap, pour water, soap, rinse, get out. Use towel.
What child would ever do that? Water, bubbles, splash, shout! Climb inside the bucket, call for more toys, duck head under faucet, pour from one mug into another – the fun options are endless. Everything they do is like that. Watch them “help” in the kitchen. Observe them putting their toys away, sweeping the stairs, unpacking the groceries. The most mundane tasks we can list they can transform completely in their endless quest for fun.
Disabled kids are exactly the same. We do our best to extinguish this innate joy by worrying endlessly about their “behaviours”, focusing on their therapy appointments, communication devices and visual charts and planning for their future when we’re no longer around. Understandable. Yet, here’s our little blind daughter, alight with the joy of music, dancing to her own beat and not in the least bothered by anything.
So make fun be her therapy. Let her play with her communication device. Make sure those visual charts are designed with her interests in mind. Live in the moment. Learn from your funny, playful kid.
Kids go to school, to the park and to parties to meet their friends. Parents and teachers may have a lot of advice and experience, but it’s friends’ opinions that really matter. Kids learn so much from each other. They pick up social cues just by being together – taking turns, what fair means, how to share toys, how close is too close, which battles are worth fighting. When children are slow to develop speech, therapists often advise more time with other kids. If they’re too timid or shy, more time with slightly younger kids. If they are too aggressive or bullying, more time with slightly older kids.
Other kids can work wonders.
But some kids, especially if they are disabled, find making friends difficult. As parents and teachers, it’s up to us to realize just how important friends are in a child’s life. We all know social skills are crucial and we work assiduously with our kids to help develop them – but sometimes we may forget why we’re doing it. An activity-based approach for turn taking and boundaries is just as important as it is for maths and science!
So remember to give kids practice in friendship. What’s obvious to you may not be to them. Spell out simple rules of give-and-take using social stories and help them analyse what went well and what bombed after a visit to the playground. Arrange for them to meet other children in low-key, no risk situations: one or two at a time, perhaps, with kids who are gentle and accepting to start, and working up slowly to the rowdier, rougher types as the child gains confidence. Slightly older cousins or neighbors can be invaluable for this.
Friends are every bit as important as therapy, food and air. They are, in fact, an absolute necessity. Why? They’ll be with your child long after you’re gone.
Which leads us seamlessly to the last and most venerable of the F-Words: Future.
When childhood is built on the principle of participation, the future is bright. Children grow up – way faster than we are prepared for. When they have always been expected to take part in whatever is happening around them – in their own way – they will discover their own special sweet spot as adults.
And all those F-Words will continue to shape and guide them as adults, just as they did when they were young and finding their way. The Future is actually now – everything we do to help our children participate in the world around them today is prep for the world they will inhabit tomorrow. Seize the day!